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Jess helps support groups connect online

13 June, 2022

UWA student Jess van Heerden has contributed 100 hours to a project that aims to help support groups across WA stay engaged and connected using social media.

Jess, who is studying a double major Fine Art and History of Art, completed the internship through the McCusker Centre for Citizenship at ConnectGroups, the peak body for over 700 peer support groups across WA.

“In recent years, there has been a significant rise in online and Facebook Support Groups, and this has been further fuelled by the onset of COVID-19 and the need for social connection via online platforms,” said ConnectGroups Advocacy and Communications Coordinator, Amanda Muir.

Jess worked closely with the ConnectGroups team to build a guide that will assist support groups to set up and maintain safe online spaces where people can share resources, find connection and seek advice.

“The resource was created in consultation with the community to identify exactly what the community would like to see in this resource and the areas that are most difficult to achieve,” said Jess.

In addition to working with the passionate staff at ConnectGroups, Jess said the highlight of the experience was seeing the guide come together, knowing it would be “extremely useful” to support groups across the community.

“Jess’ work creating this resource will be invaluable to those looking at starting an online support group, and also for existing online groups by ensuring their groups are well-managed and remain sustainable in the long-term,” said Miss Muir.

Jess says the experience has opened her eyes to the impact of support groups in the community.

“My internship has made me far more aware of the value of connecting with other people. ConnectGroups works with support groups, so I have been able to see first-hand how useful and beneficial it can be for people in difficult life situations to know that there are others who share this experience,” said Jess.

“It definitely makes me grateful for having so many supportive figures in my life and has made me want to help other people to feel supported and connected,” she said.

Jess says the internship experience has grown her confidence and resilience, gaining professional experience in a sector she was previously unfamiliar with.

“It is a great way to gain new skills and meet new people. It is also really beneficial to be placed in an organisation that directly works to serve a specific community so that you can learn how active citizenship can be integrated with a career,” said Jess.